Unforgettable animal encounters: Skyscanner’s guide to ethical animal tourism

Chances are, you’ve heard of ethical animal tourism. But what exactly is it, and how can you apply its principles to your upcoming trip? Skyscanner is here to help ensure that your next animal encounter helps protect earth’s most amazing wildlife.

The World Animal Protection Organisation protected over 20 million animals in 2019. And last year ABTA updated their animal welfare guidelines to ensure tour operators and travel agents can no longer offer tourists elephant riding and bathing experiences. But there’s still so much more to be done for the continued protection of our wildlife – and every individual traveller can make a difference.

There’s nothing quite like an up close and personal encounter with a majestic lion, or seeing an elephant with its young for the very first time. Many of us don’t stop to think that these encounters are not only potentially damaging to the animals – they have environmental consequences too. The environment is under pressure more now than ever before, and habitats are shrinking. This means we should all be thinking about how we can make every animal encounter an ethical one while travelling.

Always dreamed of a wildlife encounter with your favourite animals, but worried about doing it responsibly? Skyscanner has some top tips to help you when it comes to ethical animal tourism.

Ethical Animal Safaris

If a safari is on your bucket list – don’t panic; there are loads of ways to go on safari that won’t damage the environment – and tour operators that make positive contributions to the environment and the local community do exist. Kenya’s Naboisho Conservancy is leading the way with its local conservation efforts and you can see lions, elephants, and black rhino here.

Increasingly tour operators across Africa are realising the importance of conservation and offering ethical safaris. So you can enjoy a once in a lifetime experience while doing your bit for ethical animal tourism.

Visit Sanctuaries

Sanctuaries provide an unmissable opportunity to get close to animals. Injured animals that can’t live alone in the wild often find homes at sanctuaries, and most sanctuaries only home species that are native to the area. Keep an eye out for those that don’t promote captive breeding and sanctuaries that encourage rewilding (reintroducing animals into the wild).

Sanctuaries are one of the best places to enjoy some really unique experiences while also ensuring you’re promoting ethical animal tourism.For a chance to see elephants in an ethical environment, check out sanctuaries like Elephant Nature Park, close to Chiang Mai in Thailand. Sanctuaries like these support the conservation of these beautiful creatures and look after retired elephants.

Head for national parks

When you hear ‘wild animal encounter’ you probably think Africa’s sun-soaked plains. But you’ll find protected national parks all over the world offering you a unique opportunity to spot exotic and rare wildlife.

Two of the most famous national parks have to be Yellowstone National Park and Yosemite in the USA. Here you can explore miles of wilderness while spotting elk, wolves and grizzly bears! Saguenay–St. Lawrence National Park in Canada is a great place to spot local marine life – porpoises, seals and sharks all call the park home.

Pay it forward on a working retreat

Why not pay it forward on holiday and contribute to the ongoing well-being and survival of a species? There are retreats all over the world where you can get up close and interact with a variety of different animals.

Why not head for Madagascar? Here you can study the animals – the lemurs are amazing – and plant trees at a conservation organisation. Or head for Namibia, where rehabilitation programs are a great place to track and monitor the rewilding of cheetahs.

Go swimming with turtles

Always wanted to go swimming with turtles? Then head for the island of Apo in the Philippines, to enjoy a swim alongside the turtles while also protecting them. Apo even has a conservation program that’s supported and run by locals.

Money spent on these types of tours goes back into the local economy, ensuring the ongoing protection of both the turtles and the environment. LAMAVE is an organisation focused on the region’s marine conservation, also receives some of these funds. LAMAVE’s initiatives include local scientific studies – and they also promote ducation on environmental awareness and conservation. So you’ll enjoy an amazing experience and do your bit for ethical animal tourism.

Enjoy dolphin spotting or whale watching

Sad but true: dolphins are often kept in cramped captivity by centres offering the opportunity to swim with these emotional and highly intelligent creatures. You don’t need us to tell you this isn’t ethical. Don’t worry though – there are plenty of opportunities to see these magnificent creatures in the wild.

Visit Australia in July and you’re bound to spot migrating common dolphins and humpbacks – and booking a boat trip with a small, ethical operator is the best way to do this! These companies use much smaller boats for their tours of whale and dolphin territory.

A little closer to home, Cardigan Bay in Wales is one of the best places to spot ‘the big three’: Atlantic grey seals, harbour porpoises and bottlenose dolphins. You’ll find Europe’s largest pod of bottlenose dolphins here.

Or head north to the Moray Firth in Inverness, where people have been dolphin spotting since 1900. Renowned as one of the UK’s top spots for seeing dolphins up close and personal, you’re most likely to spot bottleneck dolphins at Troup Head or Channonry Point. Not to mention the Scottish scenery is quite spectacular too!

Explore underwater

Today there are no shortage of companies offering ethical snorkelling and diving experiences. But what does that actually mean? Avoiding feeding local species of sea life or ensuring you don’t re-visit the same areas are good examples. Smaller groups minimise damage caused to the marine life and environment.

Enjoy superior snorkelling close to home at Prussia Cove in Cornwall. Here you’ll uncover a submerged island and spot jewel anemones in cavernous gorges. You may even be accompanies by a basking shark or grey seal as this is one of the best places in the UK to swim with seals. Diving enthusiasts should head for Skomer Marine Reserve just off the Pembrokeshire coast. The area is protected from development and fishing, so it’s packed with sea life – and you’ll also find over 500 wrecks here. Spot seahorses, lobsters, catfish, seals and dolphins – all while doing your bit for ethical animal tourism.

A little further afield why not check out some of the amazing ethical diving experiences available in Kefalonia, Greece? Fiskardo Divers promotes awareness and conservation of marine fauna and flora via a range of projects, as well as organising beach and harbour cleanups. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced diver, Kefalonia’s dive sites include wrecks like the Christina and open-air caves like The Cathedral!

Become a bird watcher

Pick up a pair of binoculars, and get into bird watching. Booking a trip to Patagonia in South America is an opportunity to see the most spectacular birdlife. In Chile, you can see everything from blushing flamingos to enormous Andean condors and cute penguins.

Or take a trip to the Scottish Hebrides, where you can see golden eagles, adorable puffins, and elegant gannets.

How to ensure your animal encounters are ethical:

DON’T support shows where animals are trained to perform human behaviours, such as brushing their teeth or riding a bike. These types of behaviours can have a serious impact on animal welfare.DO book trips and tours with responsible, ethical tour operators. Ask them what types of excursions and activities they offer and see if they work with any bodies that protect wildlife. Avoid any tour operators who offer activities affecting animal welfare, such as elephant rides. DON’T ever pay to have your photo taken with animals, or to touch them. Sadly, many animals are often taken from the wild as babies, then later put down when they become bigger, or too dangerous. DO try to choose smaller or established companies that do their bit to minimise environmental impact and work with locals. DON‘T go to dolphin shows or go swimming with captive whales or dolphins. DO go on smaller tours if you’re planning a boat trip. Larger tour groups and bigger boats can damage marine life and the environment. DON’T support any establishments displaying captive animals, or restaurants where exotic animals feature on the menu.DO book tours with companies that hire locals and funnel money back into the local economy.

There are loads of ways to get up close for an animal encounter without damaging the environment or causing harm to animals. Think carefully about ethical animal tourism when planning your next trip and you’re sure to have some amazing encounters with animals in their indigenous habitats!